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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Curriculum committee asks faculty to take a big picture view of proposed changes

People don’t experience the world in a vacuum, concentrating on one topic at a time. Instead they are bombarded by a constantly changing interplay of history, science, politics, art and so on. Likewise, students should be taught to grapple with multiple subjects at a time and consider the ways in which they interact. 

That’s the premise behind the proposed IDEAs in Action curriculum, under development since 2016 and originally scheduled for a Faculty Council vote at the March 8 meeting.

The model integrates multiple disciplines into courses to meet comprehensive requirements such as “Ethical and Civil Values” and “Quantitative Reasoning.” It also evens the playing field for students from different backgrounds by requiring all first-years to take foundational courses in writing, research, interdisciplinary thinking and other skills they will use in college and beyond.

Both Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Robert A. Blouin strongly endorsed the proposed curriculum, which they say aligns well with both the University’s Blueprint for Next and the College of Arts & Sciences’ Road Map to Boldness strategic plans. In a Feb. 7 letter to Faculty Council, they urged approval of the new curriculum at the March meeting. 

But many faculty members have been resistant to the proposed IDEAs in Action curriculum because the classes they teach now would either be dropped as requirements or need to be drastically overhauled to fit into it. And so, instead of voting on the curriculum as originally planned, Faculty Council used the March 8 meeting to allow the committee who developed the plan to plead the case for their innovative model. 

“We are aiming to create a vision of the curriculum that makes Carolina a first mover in public education by thinking of the curriculum not as a series of discrete components but also thinking about the way they relate to and multiply each other,” said Chris Lundberg, associate professor of communication studies. “I have much higher confidence that a student who went through this curriculum and having the exposure to the sciences the way they would can then transfer that into meaningful social change and meaningful policy.” 

Streamlined requirements

In response to faculty who pointed out that the proposed curriculum has fewer required classes in several disciplines, committee chair Andrew Perrin conceded that “there’s less of everything,” for two reasons. One is that the University’s current general education curriculum is unusually large compared to those at other colleges. The other is that IDEAs in Action is student-focused, aimed at developing courses that integrate subjects to give students a more comprehensive view that will prepare them “to be effective, successful thinkers and citizens,” as stated in the plan’s executive summary.

“We began this process by asking what a curriculum should do for our students,” Perrin said. “In the biggest picture, any curriculum needs to express not just the collective views of the faculty but also the collective ambition of the University for its students. There’s a problem, though. The way the University is organized tells all of us that we don’t act in collective ways.”

Speaking from the audience, political science professor Frank Baumgartner thanked the committee for its work, then addressed his colleagues in the faculty. 

“I think it is a little bit scary for many people who worry about their enrollments or that the course is no longer required,” he said. “We have to have an understanding that we want to have a curriculum that makes sense for
our students, and we can’t do it just by saying, ‘three of these, two of those and four of the
other thing.’”

The committee has come up with an exciting model, Baumgartner said, adding, “It’s going to be up to us in the faculty to design some interesting courses.”

In other action and updates:



First Year Foundations 13 credits

Focus Capacities 25–28 credits

Integration & Reflection 0+ credits